Abuse of Power in Angola (Part II): Beware the Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing
In Part One, Maka Angola reported how Helena João Teka was driven off her family’s land by armed police, losing her home and her two children in an illegal forced eviction connected to the Angolan President’s right-hand man, Chief of Staff Edeltrudes da Costa, who owns a large country estate just across the road.
Helena is the official guardian to her brother Garcia João Camangumba’s six children. With the onset of mental illness, he gave Helena power of attorney, which had the effect of transferring his title to the land, to his sister. After the first two demolitions, she and her wards had taken refuge at the home of a friendly neighbor who allowed them to live rent-free on land close to their parcel but they were warned this was only a temporary help and they couldn’t stay much longer. Desperation drove Helena to erect a makeshift dwelling on the Camangumba land, a precarious shelter of the type known in Angola as ‘bate-chapas’ (panel-beaters) because they are made out of zinc roof panels.
Maka Angola’s report documented the paper trail of evidence proving that the João Camangumba family’s title to the 15-hectare plot in Mukula Ngola, in Viana municipality, was officially registered. And it summed up the allegations of abuse of power and police brutality that characterize not just Helena’s situation but those of many other poor, powerless Angolans, whom the law fails to protect. In the certain knowledge that the judiciary interpret Angola’s laws for the benefit of the powerful, not the powerless, people like Helena often look for help from other power brokers within the MPLA party, government or armed forces.
So it was that Helena thought she had found a protector, a powerful ally who could help her reclaim her land. An intermediary nicknamed ‘Cobra’ introduced her to a senior military man: “(Vice) Admiral Pedro [Chicaia] turned up, to help me protect the land. He got rid of the military occupying the land [organizing a militia to do the work] in exchange for a 100 by 50-metre portion of the land for himself. But then he became an ally of the ‘invaders’, occupied the greater part of the land and began selling it off, piece by piece. Now he too is persecuting me.”
In August 2014 (she can’t recall the exact day) Helena Teka was called by someone who said he represented a party who was interested in the land. “It was man named Falcão, who asked me to come by with my family so that we could be compensated. Falcão is an official who works for the Minister [Edeltrudes Costa]. I went over with my family and we had a conversation at the main entrance to the Minister’s estate.”
Also present were “General [actually Vice-Admiral] Pedro Chicaia, of the Navy, Brigadier Afonso and Rodrigo [who heads up the Residents’ Commission]”. But instead of discussing compensation, it turned out she had been summoned only to be told she was “prohibited from returning to the land”.
Faced with this, Helena Teka decided to defy them. But on the morning of November 27, 2014 soldiers from the Unified Command Post (PCU) turned up and stood guard over the bulldozer that demolished her ‘bate-chapas’ dwelling, the third time they had destroyed her home. “The soldiers were under the command of a Colonel (Silvano) Ndongua and they took away the building materials that they found on the land”, she says.
The Unified Command Post, a force created by Luanda Regional Commander General ‘Wala’ in early 2014, allegedly to protect the airport and similar reserved land, brings together units from the military, police and state security. In practise the PCU’s main role appears to have been to enforce evictions and mass demolitions. From its inception, there have been allegations that members of the PCU will carry out night-time illegal evictions, for a price.
Helena Teka told Maka Angola that the first time she met General ‘Wala’, he turned up on her land at the head of a convoy of a score of vehicles. “He told me the land belonged to the Minister [Edeltrudes da Costa] and he introduced me to the Minister’s envoy.”
“I threw myself onto the ground. Colonel França [An officer in the Intelligence division of the Luanda Military Region] told me “Girl, don’t cry. We are going to resolve the situation.” I felt like all my strength had gone and I and the family just stayed there, crying.”
“General ‘Wala’ told me that he had spoken to the Minister and they had agreed to compensate me and that the following Saturday I would have a meeting directly with the Minister [Edeltrudes da Costa]. We waited but the Minister didn’t turn up.”
As reported in Part One, on the General’s advice Helena sought mediation from the traditional village chief, the Soba, Moisés Kahungo who told Maka Angola: “On August 5, 2015, I held a meeting with General ‘Wala’ in the presence of Mrs Helena. He asked for the documents relating to the land, including the list of populations and told me he would write to the Minister [Edeltrudes da Costa] to find a way to resolve the issue.”
Soba Moisés Kahungo then organized a second meeting with Helena Teka and General Carlitos Simão ‘Wala’ in September 2015. Helena says: “The General came and I showed him the documents and we had a conversation. He acknowledged that I had the right to the land and that I could occupy my land. And that is where it was left.
The battle for justice
The dispute stretched into 2016. Helena decided to petition the Governor of the Province of Luanda, General Higino Carneiro.
In her letter, she refers to the contact made with Minister Edeltrudes da Costa through his lawyer, in which the Minister is said to be unaware of any dispute over the territory, noting the contradiction, given that “a few days later, the Minister sent his lawyer to meet mine (a pro-bono lawyer supplied by an Angolan non-profit) at the land and take note of its boundaries”.
The governor was quick to act: on May 13 he issued a despatch (Refª 1481/GAB.GOV./2016), remitting Helena João Teka’s letter to the Luanda Military Region for a ‘pronunciamento’ (an official response).
Furthermore, General Carneiro’s despatch summoned the following persons to a meeting on Monday May 18, 2016: “Vice-Adm. Pedro Chicaya (sic); Lt. Gen. Nelito; Mrs Helena Teca (sic); Col. Dongua (sic); Mr. Miguel; Col. França; Capt. Luís Pedro”.
And the governor demanded that, after this meeting, that those summoned should travel to the disputed plot to “determine the truth
The non-profit Associação Mãos Livres (Free Hands Association) which is supplying Helena João Teka’s legal representation, contacted the Governor on May 23rd to inform him that the meeting did not go ahead because the petitioner (Helena) arrived accompanied by a lawyer.
“The behaviour of the officials belonging to the Luanda Military Region was lamentable. The reception given to Mrs Helena (and lawyer) was neither urbane nor acceptable. Their refusal to cooperate and their attempt to obstruct a solution to this case, strongly suggests they have something to hide.”
Beaten but unbowed
Helena wonders aloud about the powerful people who have done their best to ruin her: “They don’t just run the country, they own it. Why can’t they show any respect to the poor?”
She is convinced, with considerable justification, that there is no evidence to support the claim of ownership by one Maria da Conceição, related to Minister Edeltrudes da Costa. “I have no idea who this Maria da Conceição is. This is a lie. They are using this lady’s name to protect the Minister. Would that lady have the power to send armed men here?”
She holds Minister da Costa responsible for the tragic sequence of events over the past four years. Almost as soon as he was appointed to the role of Chief of Staff to President José Eduardo dos Santos, he managed to gain possession of three or four adjacent lots across the road, creating from them a large estate, where he keeps horses.
Minister Edeltrudes da Costa has denied, via his lawyer, any connection to the forced evictions and mass demolition of homes across the road.
However, could there be any truth to the statement from the anonymous source at the Luanda Military Region that the levelling of Mukula Ngola was sparked by a comment from Minister da Costa, to his military counterpart, General ‘Kopelipa’? Did Minister da Costa knowingly or unwittingly set in motion a sequence of events that has cost innocent lives and destroyed the homes and possessions of an estimated 400 families who have been left destitute?
Whoever is found ultimately responsible, they set in motion forces who have done their level best to destroy the João Camangumba family, and in particular Helena Teka who has lost so much. These ‘forces’ destroyed her home. They killed her children. And when she protested, she was assaulted, raped, threatened and persecuted.
To add insult to injury, the people who acted on behalf of whomever it was who wants to steal her land, are now trying to save themselves by blackening her name and pressing criminal charges against her, alleging that her denunciations of the crimes against her are “false accusations”.
Sitting with Maka Angola’s Rafael Marques de Morais, Helena produces her phone, pointing on the call display to one made on August 17, 2016 at 3pm. She says this was a call from someone who identified himself as Vice-Admiral Pedro Chicaia, a man who having once offered to help her, is now a co-claimant to the parcel of land in dispute.
“He insulted me, called me a witch for persisting with my lawsuit (to reclaim the land that is legally hers) and warned me that I was going to suffer greatly”. In his phone call to the author, Vice-Admiral Chicaia repeated and expanded the slur, saying Helena Teka was “dirty”, a “feiticeira” (a woman who casts spells) and someone who used her body to enchant men into helping her with the land.
Could this attitude explain why various officials in the police and military think it justified to persecute this woman? Some weeks ago, at approximately 4am on June 17, a detachment of soldiers hammered on the door of the friend’s home where Helena Teka has found a temporary refuge with her six nieces and nephews. They gave orders that she should appear that same day at the Luanda Military Region headquarters for a meeting with General ‘Wala’.
“My niece answered the door and they told her that if I didn’t turn up I would be arrested for having disrespected the General,” says Helena Teka, adding: “This was not the first time that soldiers have turned up in the middle of the night to threaten me.”
That was the day, June 17, when General ‘Wala’ hosted a meeting that included Minister Edeltrudes Costa’s lawyer, Eurico Paz Costa. Helena Teka was a no-show, in spite of the soldiers’ dawn threats. After all, the previous month, when a meeting had been scheduled on the orders of the Governor of Luanda, General ‘Wala’ had declined to receive her when she had arrived accompanied by lawyers. She was disinclined to walk into the lion’s den at short notice without witnesses.
Someone close to those who were at the June 17 meeting has revealed to Maka Angola that “the meeting concluded that Mrs Teka should be put on trial for having made ‘false accusations’ and for ‘defaming the military’.
In fact, Eurico Paz Costa had already filed suit the previous day. Acting on behalf of their client, Minister Edeltrudes da Costa, the ACPC legal firm petitioned the Attorney General, General João Maria de Sousa, on June 16, 2016 to conduct an investigation, based on the information gathered by Maka Angola.
Eurico Costa, a partner in ACPC, has authorized Maka Angola to reveal the content of the correspondence with the Attorney General, as a formal response to allegations of the minister’s alleged involvement.
The letter reads: “The factual situation laid out by the above-mentioned person(s) [referring to Helena João Teka] regarding a group of actions carried out by alleged malefactors, which in terms of Angola’s legal framework are considered grave crimes against public order, has the repercussion of involving the good name of our client, a Minister of State and Chief of Staff at the President’s Office, who has no involvement whatsoever in the issues related.”
It goes on: “This narration of ‘actions and facts’, suggests a criminal act which should be duly investigated and whose perpetrator(s) should be duly held responsible.”
“It becomes pertinent to refer to our client’s absolute interest in establishing the truth, given that our client has no knowledge of the facts narrated, even though the supposed perpetrators have attacked his good name and reputation.”
“To this end, a meeting was held with journalist Rafael Marques who informed us of the alleged crimes committed in 2012 under the command of Commander Bety (who was then the Commander of the National Police in the Province of Luanda).”
“We submit in evidence that we have already taken the liberty of contacting the true proprietor of the land, Mrs Maria da Conceição e de Brito Cruz Gouveia, with the intuition of clarifying the actual situation of the land and to find out if she was aware of the facts described in the information received, and she alleges that she has no knowledge of any deaths, aggression, rape or rights violations by officials from the National Police.”
Helena’s response to the threat of legal action against her, sees her run the gamut of emotions. First she laughs, then she cries, then she stiffens her resolve.
“They stole my children’s lives,” sobs Helena Teka, “neighbors laugh at me and call me ‘mbaca’ (barren). They took everything from me and still they want to accuse me of defamation and false witness?” “Is this how the government interprets the laws? To send word that I will be kidnapped? Or killed?” “Well I am ready. I am just a swallow with no nest but I’m ready to stand up and face justice.”